January 11, 2016

I planned to get up at 6am and go for a run, despite the forecast noting a windchill of -16C. What happened is that, because I’d played my first indoor soccer match of the year the previous night (I headed-in the game equalizer) my better sense woke me up and I switched off the alarm on my smartphone at 4am to get some rest and heal my muscles.

Ingrid’s radio alarm went-off at 7:26am. It was the usual: CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning broadcast. But something seemed off. For one thing they were talking a lot about David Bowie. But, I thought, he just had an album out on Friday so it didn’t surprise me. And then it dawned on us that his name was being used in the past tense. I distinctly remember them playing Sound and Vision, a song I would never imagine Metro Morning otherwise playing.

I didn’t want a Canadian or journalistic perspective. I didn’t want to hear about how “strange” Bowie was. I didn’t want to hear the inevitable and inevitably earnest interview with astronaut Chris Hadfield. We spent the rest of the morning listening to BBC Radio Six which had put together a very thoughtful program, including reminiscences from musicians and Bowie collaborators. We went about our morning routine – namely, drinking coffee and reading the Globe and Mail – but it seemed like we weren’t paying attention to anything but the radio. I eschewed social media. I did not want other people’s words in my head, I didn’t want to find myself summarizing my feelings about Bowie’s passing in the sort of facile way that social media can render even the most heartfelt words. I didn’t even want to write that I was avoiding social media. I wanted none of it.

We had some breakfast and I finished some email correspondence for my practice. And then I went for a run. I needed to, even though this was probably the first time I’ve ever stepped out in plain daylight to do so (note: seeing your shadow is weird when you’re running). It was neither my fastest nor most laboured 10k. My head wasn’t really focused on anything, expect for maybe some of the songs BBC Six had been playing: songs plainly inspired by Bowie (Down Here by John Grant), songs which had plainly inspired Bowie (1-2-3 by Len Barry).

Lou Reed was the musician/performer who most likely kept me from killing myself when I was a teenager. His voice came through the speaker and consoled me in its plain cadence, and hinted to me of an alternative universe that I could only dream of seeing back then, living in the suburbs as I did; darker, sure, but more real. I don’t know if David Bowie saved my life but he made it infinitely more interesting and colourful, pulling influences out of his sleeve like a Harlequin-magician and transforming them into a succession of mesmerizing and artistically inspiring songs intended for a wide audience. He largely succeeded because he stayed ahead of trends. Both of them are gone, and while I may have felt more gutted about Reed’s passing, Bowie – whose songs, cool and fragile, rollicking and romantic, I sang to myself regularly – was another artist I had communion with, as do we all with those who deeply influence us when we feel alone.

 

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Too Much Change

So much has happened…

– sold house (add to this: renovated house)

– bought condo (add to this: mourning house, moving)

– moved psychotherapy practice to newly-leased office (add to this: find office space, renovate, move)

– had my application to the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario accepted

– began intense revision process on novel (coming out in September)

So there you have it. I also hope to have a new short story published around the time my novel comes out, so yeah. All hands on deck at the moment.

I leave you with the cover for my novel, The Society of Experience:

 

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RIP Lou Reed

I don’t want to come across as melodramatic, but I’ve been preparing myself for the day that Lou Reed passed away. That day came today.

When I say “preparing myself”, I don’t mean with an end in mind. I suppose the point was being mindful that he wasn’t going to be around forever. No one is.

The photo to the left is the first album of his I bought (on cassette). It introduced me to both Lou and the Velvet Underground in equal measure, taking the listener to his Street Hassle release. His voice lingers in my head, his words undoubtedly. He was as much a writer as a musician. He created settings for his songs, surrounded with strange people. It was impossible to feel lonely with his voice in my ears.

 

 

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Limits

I don’t typically work from home when I’m writing fiction. Too many distractions which are almost purely mental (as opposed to audible or visual). Reminders of things that need cleaning, fixing, adjustment. Things I’ve put off seemingly forever.

I typically write in coffee shops, sometimes the odd bar. So yes, I am typically more comfortable in a strange place, surrounded by strangers (though to be honest I tend not to seek out locations that are packed), with music that is not my own playing overhead. This may sound odd. After all, what could possibly provide more distraction than that?

I find the hardest variable is music. The last thing I want is to write while music I know is playing. Why? Because if I like a song, then I’ll be focused on it rather than the brittle little fictional world I’m constructing. My foot will inevitably start beating on the floor to the drums. I will anticipate the dynamics, the chorus. Pretty soon lyrics will be passing through my eyes like ticker-tape instead of my characters’ dialogue.

So, though it might seem paradoxical, I prefer the random jukebox that is the playlist of whomever is working at an establishment I’m located in. And you know what? I discovered many years ago that I can write through pretty much any type of music. And the stranger or furthest away from my taste the music is, the easier it is to tune it out. When I’m in a place that isn’t home, with people I don’t know, with music playing that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to listen to, I can more easily fall into that glorious black hole which allows me to sync with the fictional universe on the other side of my consciousness. Continue reading…

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Ask The Zombies in July, or, How Are The Dutch Going To Do at Euro 2012?

In less than two weeks, various qualifying teams from throughout Europe are going to get together in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012. It’s like the World Cup, but without most of the World. Still, some of soccer’s (which I will call football going forward) greatest stars will be competing for glory.

Now, about the Dutch. Yes, the country is called (provoking visions of clouds and grey veils) the Netherlands or, more quaintly (insert visions of tulips and blonde farm wives in wooden shoes), Holland. But, whether you are a fan or an opponent, they are often referred to as “the Dutch”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dutch met Spain in the World Cup finals in 2010. It should have been the seminal moment of my football-loving/Dutch-cheering life, but (see here for more) I was turned-off by their strategy, which – with the exception of some honest-to-God deserved victories against mortal foes such as Brazil – seemed kind of cynical.

There’s winning and then there’s winning. The Dutch, since the early 70s, have always emphasized beautiful football: flowing, sexy, unpredictable, and effective. Unfortunately, since World Cup 98, that effectiveness came into question as a combination of generational talent turnover (Ruud van Nistelrooy was not exactly Dennis Bergkamp) and some daft coaching decisions (chief in my mind, Louis van Gaal’s decision to squander a two-goal lead against Portugal in the WC 2002 qualifiers) created an existential crisis. Beautiful football wasn’t getting results.

Continue reading

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All That Glitters Isn’t Oranje

It should come as no surprise that my postings have been less frequent, in proportion to the success or lack thereof of the Dutch at the World Cup, which has just (mercifully) ended.

First: I’m happy we made it to the Final.

Second: I’m happy we lost (even though I wanted us to win at the time).

Allow me to explain: I will always support Oranje, but that doesn’t mean I have to suspend my critical faculties while doing so. It also doesn’t mean I am living in a nostalgic cloudbank in which Holland must either play soccer like the Kirov ballerinas dance or else they are “cynical” – a word bandied about by once-every-four-years-I-pay-attention-to-soccer pundits.

In case I haven’t beaten this point enough, my Oranje is the team of 1998. It always will be. They were beautiful to watch (take a look at my Ryeberg essay if you haven’t already) and most aficionados consider that squad the greatest team of the competition, regardless that they lost to Brazil in the semi-finals. The thing is, if you accept that, then you must also accept they were the very same team who flamed-out against Italy in Euro 2000 in the quarters, in perhaps one of the most humiliating games I’ve seen us play: same squad, folks. How’s that for beauty?

The toughest question in the world if you are a Dutch international soccer player: What can you do when the public, the pundits, the former stars from the Golden Age all want to see you play ballet if playing ballet doesn’t win anything? Don’t get me wrong: I like the Oranje ballet – I am one of those people who can walk away from a loss, still chuffed that we played “as we should”. I do side with author David Winner’s thoughts about Dutch soccer philosophy, as laid out in his (brilliant) book, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer. But inevitably you want to win something, and the only silverware the Dutch have is the Euro title in 1988.

This brings us to the present. Sadly. Sadly, because for the most part Oranje did not live up to the philosophy we had come to World Cup 2010 expecting. Under the direction of Bert van Marwijk, they took a detour: individual beauty, sure, when necessary, but collectively less a ballet than an assembly line with a very narrow directive: win, above all else. And they did. They were rusty at first and their games, outside of pockets of that ol’ Clockwork Oranje we hoped to see, were not pretty, but they won, and continued to win. Lord, I wanted them to win, too – I was a willing enabler.

When the final against Spain came, I was a nervous wreck. I can only imagine how it must have been in Holland, for those making their way to the Museum Square in Amsterdam where the games were shown for the public. They had come so far, had been through so much, for so many years: 1974, 1978, the glimmer of 1998, the disappointment of missing 2002. So much baggage that you wanted them to win just to shake off the voodoo of the past.

But as I got prepared that morning I visualized what it would be like if we won, if for the first time ever we won the Cup. Instead of tears of joy, I have to tell you, I saw that it would have felt as if we had cheated. As if in winning, we had not done so as ourselves but as a cunning machine, as if someone had invented a “Dutch Soccer Team” to take our place. I cannot describe how difficult it was to deal with that: to stare at a historic vindication within reach of your fingertips, knowing simultaneously there was something inherently inauthentic about it. In fact, had we won, I fear the “victory” would have irrevocably punctured the heart of Dutch soccer, as opposed to the bittersweet reality I live with now: we lost, Dutch soccer is merely dented. Coach van Marwijk’s corporatist approach has been repudiated, that is for sure. What I don’t know is who or what, philosophically speaking, has been vindicated, since we are bridesmaids once again.

Perhaps it is our souls? I can’t speak for yours, but mine is in a better if not exactly comfortable place right now.

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The Hammer (pt. 1)

When I rented a car and went to Brantford/Onondaga to do some reminiscing and photo-taking, I knew that Hamilton was also, ultimately, on my to-do list.

The aim of these trips is not preconceived. This makes it doubly hard to explain to others (friends, strangers, and loved ones) what exactly the hell I’m planning to do. “Taking pictures and stuff.” I’ll say – that’s certainly no lie, but of course there’s more to it. The thing about Zen is this: the second you begin to describe it, it disappears. And so – Art & Zen being the same – there’s always a scaffolding I build around my explanation for these trips. It’s the same scaffolding I use when I go out writing, or to take photos locally: a vague (yet not untrue) reason which allows me to unspoil the inspiration (which itself needs to be vague) while preventing others from thinking I’ve lost my mind. I’m not uncomplicated.

Hamilton, being a place of the past for me, exists in patches of haze – this isn’t to say I did a lot of drinking or drugs when it was a destination, and yet it seems that way: murky. Of course, a good chunk of that time is best forgotten now. The downtown seems more hollowed-out than it did before, with the exception of Gore Park which to this day reminds me what a good idea it is to have spacious downtown promenades.

It was a precursory destination. First, with an ill-fated relationship which spawned a series of bad decisions which I owe to naivety. I am not alone in stating that I owe many mistakes in my 20s to naivety. It all culminated in a brief tenancy at an old apartment building north of St. Joseph’s hospital. In so many ways, it was one of the more excruciating periods in my life – I think the haze I mentioned previously is partially there to protect me from looking too closely at things like this.

The second identity Hamilton had for me happened a few years later when, staying with relatives in Burlington while I studied at college, it became a “big city” to escape to. Toronto was bigger, of course, but it was too far to drive to just to have kicks. Hamilton was perfect and in the early 90s had a great nighttime scene in and around Hess Village. My hang-out was the Bauhaus Café, which sadly (though not surprisingly) no longer exists.

Walking around there now, it seems as if parts of it just gave up. People don’t even want to advertise on billboards. To be fair, I shouldn’t make any judgments without going there again, but on a Friday night – I’m afraid however that these judgments will only skew worse if I do.

Perhaps I have a better understanding of the haze now: it’s there to protect my feelings, it’s there to protect the city from the cold light of an unsympathetic audience.

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It Doesn’t Need To Be This Way

I was having brunch in the Market with my friend, Lady B, whom I’ve known for over 10 years. We were talking about “life changes” (we both being close to 40). We got onto the topic of how her and I sometimes are conditioned to expect the worst.

“With the house, didn’t you feel that, somehow, everything would inevitably go wrong and you wouldn’t get it after all?” she asked.

“Yes!”

It was as if she had read my mind. We were eating palacsinta at a small Hungarian bistro.

We talked about this, because she’d felt the exact same way when she and her partner bought their house. She speculated, correctly in my estimation, that this mode of thinking – let’s call it auto-tragic thinking – was the result of her and I coming from divorced families (the divorces or circumstances surrounding them being particularly destructive). The end-result, if not in all cases then certainly in ours, was that we were conditioned to expect gift horses to have mouth cancer and every silver lining to have a cloud moving in its way. Happiness was a pulled rug away from tragedy.

I thought about moments in my life – moments that everyone experiences – like applying for a job, asking someone out for a date. Moments where, realistically, we hope/aim for the best. The difference between the average person and people like myself and Lady B is that, in the event we don’t get the job we hope for, in the event that special someone isn’t interested in us, we tend to see it as a fateful inevitability; a symptom of a curse. Of course, we say to ourselves. Why should this be any different than any other time?

The subject clearly struck a chord for both of us.

“You expect it to be like in Carrie.” she said in a follow-up email, discussing how we became conditioned to expect the worst. “You’re at the prom, thinking that everything’s turning around in your life and then suddenly you’re covered in pig blood.”

The best male equivalent I could think of was Laurence Harvey’s character in (the original) The Manchurian Candidate; a tragic puppet whose fleeting tastes of freedom coincide with horrific end results.

So, no, neither Lady B nor I are cursed. Our houses have not fallen down or been taken away from us by a nightmarish bureaucracy. If anything we are only beginning to sense just how much re-wiring is necessary for us to see things clearly, without the faulty psychological infrastructure that led to us to believe that, indeed, the odds were stacked against us.

The mind is a frightening thing. This is why I read books and watch films which challenge my preconceptions. This is why I am lucky to have friends such as Lady B.

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For *’s Sake

It’s been one of those battle-cries of mine the last while. Everything in the world, culturally-speaking (and I don’t necessarily mean high culture) seems to be evaporating into mindless bullshit.

The AV Club – a site I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with already – just posted an interview with actor Paul Giamatti. In the opening summary, the interviewer describes the plot of his latest film, which reads like a counterscript of 1999’s Being John Malkovich and yet there is no mention of this parallel anywhere in the article, something even Entertainment Tonight would do. The interviewer talks about this upcoming film with Giamatti as if it and his role – the John Malkovich role, if it were Being John Malkovich – were just soulless objects to be discussed out of necessity. In other words, it’s just like any other media-junket interview, like something you would read in InStyle or Chatelaine. Not that those examples are b-a-d, but when you pride yourself as better, especially savvy, tongue-in-cheek better, you shouldn’t even be in the same postal code as InStyle or Chatelaine if you want to retain your reputation.

The Motley Fool – again, a site previously known for being savvy, even though they deal with the stock market – now reads like Ain’t It Cool News, complete with arguments which, under rational analysis, seem completely idiotic and antithetical to what one would assume is their mission statement (ie. being different than the rest of those brain-dead-and-short-sighted Money sites).

Oh, and CNN. Not that they’ve ever been more relevant than a Reuters news ticker, but they’ve gone from mediocre to stupid by allowing one of their show hosts, Lou Dobbs, to continuously question the origin of Barack Obama’s citizenship, a paranoid suspicion virulent in the libertarian/right-wing fringe of the U.S. that has been repeatedly disproved (read: he doesn’t want Johnny Foreigner running and ruining the most-possibly-greatest-country-ever-in-the-world).

Now, one of the arguments I can imagine hearing is: well, Matt, in a 24-hour newsday (whether on TV or the Internet) when people expect constant information there inevitably has to be weaker material. To which I say: I understand, but I’d settle for less information over less hours (if need be), if it means the information will be consistent and better. After all, you are what you eat, and in this day and age we feed on media in an astonishingly unconscious and voracious manner.

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Images

I think images are worth repeating

images repeated from a painting

Images taken from a painting

from a photo worth re-seeing

I love images worth repeating

project them upon the ceiling

Multiply them with silk screening

see them with a different feeling

– from Images, lyrics by Lou Reed

Every May in Toronto there is what is called CONTACT. It is a photography showcase. What makes it unique is that, rather than two or three galleries being the centre of interest, the photographs are integrated into (and across) the city. Storefronts bear photographs, abandoned buildings bear them, you see them inside bars and cafés. Go along the Junction and you can’t sit down without seeing signs pointing into stores, saying “Temporary Gallery”.

This integration was quite stunning a couple of years ago; someone got permission to have their photographs – printed on clear plastic film – adorn the glass-paned bus shelters along Queen West. Each one responded to each other and the environment. It was thought-out. Choreographed, if you will. It was, photography or no photography, an art installation.

This year I find myself wishing CONTACT would end (if not May). Though I have not seen (what I can only assume is) the A-grade stuff in the chosen galleries, I have to say that I’m going to scream if I have to walk past many more of them. There is no order. Just image, after image, after image. Just images. Rectangular submissions without point, intent, self-awareness.

I am surrounded by photos, everywhere, at a point where I am going through a photographic/existential crisis. The film vs. digital divide has divided me, particularly since my 35mm lens is giving me problems (I sooo don’t want to get out the jeweller’s screwdriver kit). Meanwhile, I’m having great fun (at low resolution) with my BlackBerry’s camera – it allows me to do so much I wish my manual film-camera could do: being spontaneous without lugging a 2lb Soviet brick. Having a preview window is also a great plus. In the end, however, the resolution isn’t good and the colour is often skewed blue/cyan (meaning I often have to import the photo onto my laptop and futz w/ Photoshop before I can upload it).

Just before this all came about, things were quite different. I had joined a local, well-respected photography collective and was expecting a medium format camera to be sent from an eBay seller. My photographic future appeared, allow me this, picture-perfect. In short, the camera never worked, the seller was less than useless in helping the situation, and it simply can’t be fixed locally. Add to this my affair with a shallow cameraphone, my 35mm lens issue, and said well-respected photography collective annoying me with “bulk” emails (filled with both utterly useless and useful information without care for clear formatting). Add CONTACT and stir, liberally.

In short, it has all forced me to face a philosophical and practical dilemma which I never really thought I’d need to face: why do I take pictures? What am I taking pictures of? What is the eye behind the viewfinder? Is it a diary? Is it journalism? How seriously are you going to take this? Professional-seriously or I’m-just-fucking-around-and-don’t-want-to-think-about-it-seriously?

Thus I find myself subconsciously referring to a song from Songs For Drella, a dedication to Andy Warhol by Lou Reed and John Cale. It spins like a mantra, like a whirling dervish, and I stare intently at it hoping that I’ll see the meaning in its elusive centre.

I’m no urban idiot savant

spewing paint without any order

I’m no sphinx, no mystery enigma

what I paint is very ordinary

I don’t think I’m old or modern

I don’t think I think I’m thinking

It doesn’t matter what I’m thinking

It’s the images that are worth repeating

Ah, repeating, images

Images

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